It's Show Time for Microsoft's Office File Format

 
 
By Peter Galli  |  Posted 2008-02-22
 
 
 

It's Show Time for Microsoft's Office File Format


Microsoft's announcement of greater interoperability and openness comes just days ahead of a ballot resolution meeting in Geneva that is the precursor to the final vote on whether its Office file format is approved as an ISO standard.

Microsoft said Feb 21 that it would adhere to a set of new interoperability principles designed to increase the openness of its high-volume products and drive greater interoperability. The company also said it would publish the protocols in Office 2007 that are used to connect to any other Microsoft products, including Exchange Server 2007 and SharePoint Server 2007.

Microsoft lost the earlier ratification vote held last September, amid acrimonious allegations of unfair play and ballot-box stuffing. Its new interoperability play is widely seen as a move to try to prevent the file format from suffering the same fate this time around.

The comments that were made with the votes will be discussed at the meeting, the goal of which is to try to reach a consensus on modifications to the document in light of those comments. 

If the proposed modifications persuade enough of the national bodies to withdraw their negative votes-so that at least two-thirds of the votes cast are then positive, with no more than 25 percent of the total number of the national body voting against the move-the draft file format standard can still be published.

If that does not happen, "the proposal will have failed and this fast-track procedure will be terminated," the ISO has previously said. But that would not preclude the draft standard from being submitted again under the normal ISO standards development rules.

Microsoft officials have been upbeat about their prospects of succeeding this time around, with Tom Robertson, its general manager of interoperability and standards, telling eWEEK previously that "we believe that the final tally in early 2008 will result in its ratification as an ISO standard."

But CEO Steve Ballmer made clear on Feb. 21 that its new interoperability approach would not change the company's plan to continue pursuing the file format standardization under the ISO process.

National Bodies to learn more


That stance was "certainly consistent with the notion of standards, and standards support, and a number of things articulated in the principles...So, yes, we are continuing through the standardization process with a variety of industry participants," he said. 

But that approach has been sharply criticized by some in the open-source community, like Red Hat's General Counsel Michael Cunningham.

He believes that if Microsoft was really committed to greater interoperability and openness, it would commit to open standards and stop pushing forward its proprietary, Windows-based Office file format for document processing, and rather embrace the existing ISO-approved, cross-platform Open Document Format.

While Andy Updegrove, a partner with Boston law firm Gesmer Updegrove, says Microsoft's latest moves appear to indicate a greater willingness to be both open and cooperative, it was no coincidence that this announcement came just two business days before the Ballot Resolution Meeting convened in Geneva Feb. 25. 

"This will effectively give those participating in the discussions of Microsoft's document format no opportunity to fully understand what Microsoft has actually promised to do. But there will be greater time for the National Bodies to learn more during the one-month voting period that will follow the resolution meeting, providing that further details are rapidly made available," he said in his ConsortiumInfo.org standards blog .

When recently asked by eWEEK what the impact would be on adoption if the Office file format is not ratified, Microsoft's Robertson said it was already an open Ecma International standard that was available to the community and being rapidly adopted.

"We would expect that to continue. The question is whether the global community wants to have a voice in its evolution, and that is what the ISO ratification process will do," he said at that time.

 

Rocket Fuel